Non-Pharmacological Treatments for Depression

Instructor: Adrianne Baron

Adrianne has taught high school and college biology and has a master's degree in cancer biology.

Depression is something that is becoming more and more prevalent in our world. There are many ways to combat depression that do not involve the use of drugs, as will learn in this lesson. We will explore many of the common non-pharmacological treatments for depression.


You have finally managed to meet up with your friend, Susan, at your local coffee house. It does not take long before you realize that Susan seems extremely sad and in despair. After listening to your friend, you are able to tell that she is depressed. Depression is a condition of being in a mental state of sadness, despair, and hopelessness characterized by lack of interest in activities and isolation.

Susan expresses that she knows there are some medicines that she can take for her depression, but she is already taking medicine for her other conditions and is tired of feeling like pills are running her life. Luckily for Susan, depression is one of the conditions for which you studied non-drug treatments.

Non-pharmacological Treatments

You begin with a couple of therapies and then move on to options that fall under the category of complementary and alternative medicine, or CAMs for short.

Therapies and Lifestyle changes

The first option you give Susan is to talk with a counselor or therapist. They are trained to help people get through depression whether it is caused by an event or happened for no reason. In addition to that, a great therapist can help to put events into perspective so that you can continue on without feeling depressed.

Since it seems that Susan got depressed around the same time as her diagnoses for other conditions, you suggest that she join a support group. This can be beneficial to Susan, since it will put her around other people that are going through the same thing that she is, which can make her feel like they truly understand her. Groups are also a source of help for each other because they share ways that they have been able to get to feeling better.

It also clicks in your head that you and Susan should get together more often. Susan spends too much time alone and in the house. Just the act of getting out and socializing with positive people can help to boost her mood and help lift the depression. This will also be a constant reminder to Susan that someone cares about her and not all is lost.

One of the things that you suggest to Susan is that you guys exercise together. Exercising, especially with a friend, can alleviate the symptoms of depression. Getting the body moving and hormones circulating properly will put the body closer to its normal state, which can uplift her mood and make it stable.

Maintaining a balanced diet that contains foods from every food group is another important way to fight depression. You tell Susan to eat balanced meals throughout the day to keep her body healthy, which helps fight depression and the other conditions in her body. As part of this diet, Susan should avoid drugs, alcohol, caffeine, and sugar because these substances can alter her mood making her depression worse.

Susan needs to be sure she gets the right amount of sleep every night. Lack of sleep can make anyone irritable. We see it all the time in kids! Without the proper amount of sleep, we become less agreeable, sad, fatigued, and in the end, depressed. Susan should ensure that she gets that recommended six to eight hours a night.

You see online that biofeedback is a somewhat new tool being used to fight depression. Susan will have to have electronic sensors attached to her head that allow her to see how she is reacting to certain situations. This will let her identify stressors or depressors that she isn't aware of and try to eliminate them. The biofeedback will also allow her to gain control over how her body reacts to these types of situations.

Complementary and Alternative Medicine

Now you show Susan some supplements and natural treatments. Susan should start taking a multivitamin like the gummy vitamins you take. The multivitamin will help to make sure every needed vitamin is in her body in normal amounts. Vitamins are an important part of mental health and stability.

There was a website that told you guys about the benefits of taking St. John's Wort to treat depression. Susan is interested in trying it, since it is a naturally occurring herb as opposed to a chemical made up in a lab. She can get it in pill or tea form to help her mood.

You let Susan know that there are amino acid supplements that are known to help with depression. These include L-tyrosine, L-tryptophan, and pheylalanine. Each of these amino acids is able to alter serotonin, the mood hormone, levels to get them back in balance and decrease depression.

Another option that you share with Susan is to use relaxation techniques. These are great for fighting depression because they focus on relaxing the body, which can reduce stress and subsequently reduce depression levels. Some techniques to try include yoga, tai chi, breathing exercises, and meditation.

Acupuncture is the last non-pharmacological option in the arsenal against depression.

Acupuncture therapy
Picture showing acupuncture

This technique involves placing a series of thin needles in specific points on the body to cause changes in the body that reduce depression. You guys read that the exact mechanism for how acupuncture works is not well understood, but there are an abundance of success stories.

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